Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a disease in cattle. It belongs to a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. The diseases are characterised by a degeneration of brain tissue giving it a sponge-like appearance.
BSE was first diagnosed in 1986. Since 1989, the European Commission and the EU Member States have put in place a comprehensive series of measures to manage the risk of BSE in the European Union (EU).
BSE can be divided into Classical BSE and Atypical BSE. At present only the infectious agent causing Classical BSE has been demonstrated to be transmissible to humans.
Classical BSE was first diagnosed in the United Kingdom in 1986. It was first a European and later became a global problem affecting cattle. Epidemiological studies suggest that the source of this disease was cattle feed prepared from BSE-infected animal tissues, such as brain and spinal cord.
The common symptoms of Classical BSE in cattle include behavioural changes, lack of coordination, difficulty in walking or standing up, decreased milk production and weight loss. However, the disease has also been detected in animals showing no symptoms.
The infectious agent – a prion – which causes BSE in cattle can be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated meat causing variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, which was first diagnosed in 1996. A prion is an abnormal form of a protein(known as PrPc).